In my experience, readers usually have two stances on TBR piles: There is the reader who wants a small pile, and one who wants a never-ending one.
The first type would rather purchase books and read them immediately. They might want a few unread books lying around, but these unread books feel like an obligation. Hundreds of books would be terribly stressful to them. It's difficult enough to realize that there are so many books in the world they will never get around to -- but adding those books to a TBR shelf on Goodreads and having a visual? Actually keeping those books around their home? No way.
The second type just wants to be surrounded by books. They are possibilities, worlds not yet discovered. Knowing that they will never read all the books provides a comfort -- what would they do if someday, there was nothing left to read? A library full of unread books sits very well with this person. So what if they never read every story on their shelves?
I have to say, I'm the first type. When I first discovered Goodreads, I added and added to my TBR. Even if a book didn't seem great, I might want to read it some day. If I didn't add it to the shelf, I would probably forget about it completely.
But after awhile, this constant adding of books turned to constant removing of books. I'm happy with that, especially recently.
Here's something I've found: For me, it's so much more exciting to pick up a book right away. I have never been one to purchase too many books in advance -- I usually buy them when I'm ready to read. But when I first hear about a book's release and can pick it up right away, that's when I'm happiest with my reading.
With a large TBR, I don't feel I can do that. There are so many other books that have been out a long time, that I've been meaning to read forever, and that I should definitely get to first! But since I narrowed down just my Goodreads shelf (Why was I ever letting a list on a website run my reading life?), I feel more freedom in what I read.
It's really all a change in perspective. I think I started out as the second type of reader -- I didn't know about many books, so I had to keep them all where I could find them. But now I know I will never run out of things to read. Between Goodreads and blogging, I am always hearing about new books. Only now, I'm beginning to realize that I don't have to read every one of them.
I would love to hear your opinions in the comments -- which type of reader are you? Do you relate to either of my options, or do you have a different perspective that I didn't think of?